Yesterday, I posted a photo and asked you to comment on it. We are discussing it at the Facebook page, and I wanted to share here slightly different version of the same photo:
In a traditional view, there is no denying that this is the better photo. The lines are clean, it is self-contained, there are no distractions, and the composition is technically very correct.
And, to me, it is just not quite there. Not boring, but lacking that little kick that takes it higher: like adding an acid to food to make it brighter, or adding a touch of hot pepper to a very dark chocolate to provide the spark to make the flavor come alive and balance the inherent bitterness. It is the difference between a story written with a reference to another part of a character’s life that has nothing to do with the current story, but suggests that the character is more than just a two-dimensional throw-away.
The problem is, that one person’s squeeze-of-lime is another person’s caustic mess; the pepper a burn; and, the reference about the character a distraction from the story. The safest course is, of course, to avoid going too far out of the pallet range of the audience. The best course is, of course, to push a bit.
Sometimes, the push will work and work well. Sometimes, you end up with an inedible mess on your hands — or a photo that fails.
Which begs the question: what do I look for in a photo, especially one I take?
I want wow. Well, not just wow but WOW. I want it to work on a fundamental level to catch the eye. This doesn’t mean bright colors or high contrast; rather, I want the range to work for that image. It can be low contrast, of a foggy landscape where details are more suggested (and left to the viewer’s imagination) than seen rendered in perfect greyscale. Or, it can be colorful and more high contrast, as seen above.
It needs to capture and impart information, and invite curiosity. Once you’ve caught the eye, capture the mind. What is shown, why is it being shown, and what is going on then, before, and later? What happened to lead up to that photograph, what is going on that is not obvious, and what comes next? Hey, wait, what’s that down in the photo?
There needs to be a level below. Some may argue that this is part of the above, but for me it is separate. It is a level of detail that one comes back for, that brings that third look to see what is there. To make you not just look again, but to enlarge and view to check and see what is there. You may or may not get the answer you seek, but it makes you look and explore.
Sometimes, the best photographs don’t give you what you want, or at least what you think you want. They leave that one little thing out, or merely hint at an answer to a number of questions, not just the one you have at the time. They leave you wanting more, and coming back to try and find it.
So, as a photographer you can play it safe or you can push a bit. Sometimes, it works well. Sometimes it won’t. But, unless you try, you will never know if a photo will merely be good, or if it will be great.
Just a thought to share.